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  • Fe Robinson

The power of metaphors

Metaphors are powerful.  When we think of one thing in terms of another that symbolises or represents it, the resulting metaphor is packed with meaning.  This means that using metaphors therapeutically can be very impactful, it can really change your relationship to an issue or situation.

The power of using metaphor means that they need to be used with care and responsibility by therapists.  We each make meaning in our own unique way, and this is essential for a therapist to honour.  We can not insist a client see something a particular way, we can offer a metaphor where we sense it might fit, but then need to leave our client to make sense of it in whatever way they do.  I am often surprised and delighted by the meanings and nuance clients find in metaphor, poetry, pictures and other right-brain focused interventions, it is refreshing to explore these things through the perspective of another.

Many years ago I was lucky enough to be introduced to clean language and the symbolic modelling approach that utilises it.  Clean language is a set of questions that are as free of metaphor as possible, that can be used by a therapist (or people in other professions) to help a client find out more about how they perceive things, and how they structure their experience internally.  As clean language is used to help you explore your experience, you learn more about yourself by expressing metaphors, packed with meaning, that shed light (spot the metaphor!) on how you come to experience as you do.  It’s important to notice that as we enquire about the metaphors they develop and change, and this changes our real world experience to what they represent.  

To me, both offering and eliciting metaphors are powerful ways to work.  Both have big benefits for clients.  The important thing is recognising that as a clinician I really do not know what they mean to my client, my job is to help them discover this from within their own experience.  This enabling curiosity is what most supports change in my experience.

If you’d like creative ways to understand what is happening for you in areas where you’d like something different, get in touch for in person psychotherapy in Darlington, or online psychotherapy for UK-based clients.

two rowing boats on water


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